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Cucumbers

Cucumbers

A refreshing addition to salads, yogurts and sandwiches, the cucumber is an indispensable ingredient in many spring and summer dishes.

Nutritional Highlights

  • Cucumbers are loaded with water, helping keep you hydrated.
  • They also contain just 10 calories per half-cup of slices, which is good news when you're trying to cut calories.

History

Cucumbers probably originated in India. Today, you can still find them in Indian sauces like raita, a cucumber-and-yogurt condiment that is perfect for cooling the fires of spicier dishes. For that matter, this veggie is great for dialing down the heat of summer, since the inside of a cucumber really is about 20 degrees cooler than the air around it. So you can say "cool as a cucumber" and mean it!

Varieties

There are three main kinds of cucumber:
  • Persian, or "slicing," cucumbers, which are usually sliced or chopped and eaten fresh
  • English cucumbers, whose seeds are so tiny they are sometimes nicknamed the "seedless" variety
  • "Pickling" cucumbers, which are grown just to be made into pickles

When are Cucumbers in Season?

They are available all year long, but cucumbers are in season during the warm months, making this veggie perfect for cooling off on a hot summer day.

How to Choose Cucumbers

Pick a cucumber that is dark-green and firm. Avoid ones that bulge or balloon a bit in the middle, since these may have less flavor and more seeds. It's not too tough to spot a bad cucumber, either, since they will be yellowish, soft or bruised.

How to Store Cucumbers

Whole cucumbers will keep in your refrigerator for about a week. Want to store them longer than that? It may take a little more prep on your part, but it's definitely doable. Simply use cling wrap or shrink wrap to cover the cucumber's skin and lock in moisture. Some cucumbers are sold pre-sealed in wax, which may help them last longer in the fridge.

How to Cook with Cucumbers

Using fresh cucumbers is almost too easy, really. They can be peeled, chopped, sliced, diced or shredded. You can add slices to salads and sandwiches, while diced cucumber goes great in yogurt dishes or on grilled meat. You can even use cucumber slices in place of crackers to make a cool, crisp version of your favorite hors d'oeuvres.

Key Measurements

Most recipes will call for a small to moderate amount of mixed-in slices or shreds – something like one-quarter cup (about 1/10th of a whole cucumber). If the veggie forms the base for a salad, the measure may be closer to a full cucumber, usually sliced.

Substitutions

In many recipes, cucumber is an all-but-irreplaceable ingredient. This is because it has a unique flavor, one that's mild, refreshing, slightly melon-y and tough to replicate. But if you find you don't care for the taste, try using seared zucchini, cooked yellow squash or crisp carrot slices instead. Just remember that some of these veggies don't always pair with other ingredients as well as cucumber does.

Cucumbers in Recipes

Talk about a versatile vegetable! Not only are cucumbers hard to replace, but it's easy to swap out heavy or spicy ingredients – like crackers, pepperoni or jalapenos – for cucumber.

Try this Cucumber-and-Tomato Raita as a side dish with spicy Indian chicken. If you're entertaining, it doubles as a cool, crispy dip with chips or pita bread wedges.

If you're tired of heavy, grilled burgers, this recipe for Healthified Indian-Spiced Beef Patties with Cucumber Sauce is a fresh, international take on a poolside summer favorite.

And when you have friends over, wow them with this simple appetizer: Cucumber Slices Topped with Basil and Crabmeat.

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